How not to be engaging: a small case study of Aman Hambleton

Aman Hambleton is a chess grandmaster and a popular Twitch streamer. I love watching his videos, but recently he made a surprisingly non-engaging video. I will show what exactly makes it non-engaging.

The video is here, recounting a game Aman played against the world chess champion Magnus Carlsen:

And here is the transcript of the last few minutes (starting from 21:26), with my annotations.

The transcript

It ended in draw (?), it's the only time I've played Magnus (?)

I will be using "(?)" to annotate rising, question-like intonation. You will notice that question-like intonation feels like the sentence keeps going — and the longer it keeps going, the harder it is to keep listening.

and I know it's not a classical game (?), certainly not (?),

The run-on sentence continues.

This is a common problem for public speaking beginners — a few years ago I was giving talks consisting entirely of run-on sentences. I didn't realize they were unlistenable until a public speaking coach made me watch a recording of one of the talks.

I think it is caused by not knowing what is the point of what you're saying. Write exactly what you want to say, and edit it heavily. If you stick to one point per sentence, it will be much easier to kill the rising intonation.

but I'm still very proud of the result, at the time, I was a just under 2400 IM, and super pleased that I got a chance to play Magnus in my chess career because I think there's a lot of people that can't say the same (!).

The sentence has finally ended. Observe how much nicer the ending of the sentence is. It is conversational, emotional, storytelling-like. This is how you want to be speaking all the time. This is how Aman speaks all the time on streams — scroll to the end of this post for a link.

I mean, he plays a lot of games with top players, but, there are definitely a lot of players in the world who have never (!) played against Magnus and probably never will.

The past two sentences feel very redundant. Of course there are many people who will never play against a world champion! The whole thing is relatable, so briefly mentioning and demonstrating the emotion is more than enough. However, in this video, Aman is uncharacteristically low-energy and very non-theatrical. This is why he has to resort to talking. A "yay!" and a few hand gestures would have been worth a minute of talking.

"gave it all away". We don't know how he actually feels about it.

So I was happy to, to get the chance to do so, and even happier (!) that, you know, I was able to play — in my opinion — a pretty solid game (*), nothing remarkable (*), there weren't a lot of tactics here, but, played a solid game with the black pieces (*), actually got an advantage (*), played like way too much of a wussy and just wanted a draw (*), so I gave it all away (*), and then I nearly, you know, I had heart attacks and, you know, flashbacks that I would mess the final draw up, but, luckily I held it together, I didn't, secured the draw, it was a big result for the team at the time, and in a rapid game, I'll definitely... I'll definitely take that result against Magnus!

If you skipped this long bit, please rewatch the parts marked with asterisks (*). Half of them are very positive — he got an advantage against a world champion! Half of them are negative — "nothing remarkable", "gave it all away". The jarring thing about this sentence is that all those parts have the same intonation.

So, this was my, my only game I've played against him, maybe I've played against him online on an anonymous account that, you know, I just don't know about, but, in terms of a public account, public appearance, this was the only time I played against Magnus and I was able to secure a draw (!). So, there you go, we'll take that.

Redundant again, and a very long sentence again.

The bit about "maybe I played against him online" is completely unnecessary. This is what happens when you don't know what you want to say and yet feel like you have to say more.

I think in Aman's case this is entirely the fault of making a video directly for YouTube, rather than uploading an edit of his stream. In streams, Aman is very conversational and very engaging. He doesn't need to ramble because he doesn't need to "say more".

For me, the same happens with Twitter threads vs blog posts. The lack of audience is a death sentence. I end up unsatisfied with everything I write.

And as you can see here, this is the game saved in the chess.com database, obviously my account says "GM" — just because, even when you look at past games it stays with your current title, so. I was an IM at the time but we've got the GM title there now.

Redundant. Very redundant.

But yeah, you can see here the 97.1, 97.1, so the accuracy is totally on par, this is, like, you know, the most drawish game that you could ever have (!) between two players (!).

Back to engaging. He's showing that the game was solid, he has physical proof.

They have the same accuracy, best moves, you know, 63, 62, obviously, you know, I got one extra, don't mind me (!), but yeah, as you can see, no inaccuracies, no mistakes, no blunders, no missed wins,

And now back to boring. Listing everything on the screen.

it's just a... it's just a good game, just a solid game with both players, I definitely had the advantage there, um, even though I got chess.com telling me "neither player ever had an advantage". Relax, alright (!), I had something (!) but, I quickly gave it away, and Magnus rightfully, you know, gave it to me when he saw me next in person, for playing like, playing like such a wuss with a good position, but — hey — I'll take the draw, 97.1 accuracy a piece, it's a good game, and obviously a privilege to play against the world champion, in any time control, any format, so.

Redundant, redundant.

It's a really, really important game for me (?), and, yeah, just wanted to share that with you guys, hopefully you enjoyed some of the quick analysis here and maybe some of the background stories, but, it was awesome for me to get a chance to play Magnus in my chess career, and, uh, I wanted to share that with you guys.

The same text could keep going forever. If you got to this point, pay attention to how very jarring the fade to outro music is. The music doesn't wait for Aman to finish, because finishing is impossible.

"Hopefully you enjoyed some of the quick analysis here and maybe some of the background stories" is particularly telling. Imagine a news report ending with "hopefully you enjoyed some of the quick analysis here". This is not to say that you shouldn't end with "hopefully you enjoyed this" or "I wanted to share that with you guys" — those are merely symptoms. If you feel like you need them, you've already lost.

P. S.

Aman: if you are reading this, I hope you don't take it to heart. I love your streams.

Everyone else: check out Aman's Building Habits series — for example, Building Habits #10, starting from 00:56:40. You will see an entirely different Aman.